As the U.S. coronavirus outbreak spreads beyond densely populated metropolitan areas, a new KFF analysis finds that rural areas typically have fewer intensive care hospital resources than their urban counterparts, and populations at greater risk of developing serious illness and complications from COVID-19.
While metro and non-metro areas have similar numbers of hospital beds per capita (23.5 vs 23.8 beds per 10,000 people), non-metro areas have fewer intensive care (ICU) beds – about 1.7 per 10,000 people, compared to 2.8 in urban areas. When adjusted for age, non-metro areas have only 1.6 ICU beds per 10,000 age-adjusted population, compared to 2.9 ICU beds in metro areas. Since older adults with COVID-19 are both more likely to require hospitalization and more likely to require intensive care while hospitalized, outbreaks in rural communities could strain the already limited capacity of their health systems.
The analysis includes interactive maps that enable users to explore estimates of hospital bed capacity by area, and to adjust those estimates based on the age of the population.
On average, residents of rural areas tend to be older and sicker than people who live in urban areas. 20% of people living in non-metro areas are age 65 or older, and 26% of residents under age 65 have health conditions that put them at a higher risk of developing serious COVID-19 complications. Many may already face challenges accessing health care services due to factors like provider shortages and longer travel times to reach hospitals.
The analysis is part of the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker, an online information hub dedicated to monitoring and assessing the performance of the U.S. health system. For more data, analysis, polling and journalism on the COVID-19 pandemic, visit our special resource page on kff.org.